Category: West Side/West Hollywood
Yes, it means what you think it means
8200 W. Sunset Blvd. (@ Havenhurst, in West Hollywood)
Phone: 323-650-0614 | map
8665 Washington Blvd. (Culver City)
Phone: 310-837-5000 | map
395 Santa Monica Place (@ 4th, in Santa Monica)
Phone: 310-394-0373 | map
Despite being open until three in the morning, this doesn't possess the comfortably shabby demeanor of a neighborhood taco stand, into which you stumble in sore need of some well-deserved grease and spice; it's priced a little too high for that. This is the latest inspiration by the Anaya Brothers, owners of Cha Cha Cha.
The ceiling is awash with miniature piñatas* and colorful cutouts; the walls are adorned with off-brand loteria paintings (the El Pinche seeming particularly irreverent). The tables have absurdly blue checkered cloths.
As might be expected, the easiest introduction to a place with "tacos" in the title is the Pinche Combination Plate: a trio of tacos, with rice, beans and chips. The rice is properly fluffy**, and the refried beans are plain tasty, full of themselves without being whipped to senselessness.
Each taco embraces the holy duo of small white onion shards and cilantro, huddled together in malleable corn tortillas that are prone to tearing on contact with moisture. This contributes to the non-taco-stand feel, as I prefer to eat these at the table with fork and fingers rather than hunch over a rickety aluminum counter devouring taco goodness and fighting off pigeons.
The adobada consists of intense little cubes, marinated in a chili sauce with a wink of vinegar; they demand a determined chewing to extract maximum flavor. A briskly chopped salsa sits atop. The pollo a la parrilla is blocks of chicken breast, grilled to a pleasing stiffness on the outside, painfully moist inside. The carnitas are exquisite, not shredded, but large, imposing cuts of rich, shiny, citrusy pork.
Luxuriating on a stretchy tortilla, the pescado taco is thinly golden, not crunchy like Baja style but tender and collapsing. Oddly, it has a Veracruz coleslaw rather than naked cabbage, but I think I like it. The red salsa on this is among Pinche's best.
For burritos, I like the al pastor, pork strips marinated and broiled to a steaky firmness, muddled together with strings of sautéed onion and nicely gritty, dirty rice.
The chips here are fried hard, the pico de gallo can be thin and oniony, and there may not be many favorites among the salsas, although the cool spicy red used on the fish tacos is good to request.
Some Yelpy complaints have emerged regarding the staff at the Sunset location, which is, statistically, also more likely to attract its share of obnoxiously assumptive clientele. However, both locations have statistically unlikely free parking lots, suggesting that the universe is somewhat balanced. In any case, tacos, and I want them again soon.
Thanks to Adam for letting me drag him to yet another lunchtime foray.
* "Would you say I have a plethora of piñatas?"
** I realize that I rarely have much to say about Mexican-style rice. I am incomplete if it is not juxtaposed with my beans and main course, but it tends to be either satisfactory, or dry and uninteresting like your Uncle Theodore. I have never yet had a forkful of amber rice with a touch of vegetable and said, By God and the Queen's grace, Janice, this rice is damned fine!... I also don't know anyone named Janice to whom I can direct this ejaculatory observation.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, West Side/West Hollywood, Santa Monica/Culver City, Late Night/24 Hours )
As you cruise west along the hip, aloof commerce of Melrose, you may choose to look right at The Foundry instead of left. You may have passed Antonio's dozens of times. Yet it's been there for decades, as the sea of photos featuring celebrities posing with the handsome, mustachioed Antonio Gutierrez will attest.
The inside has the richly puffy booths, the heavily stuccoed wall murals, and the iron chandeliers of a classic Mexican restaurant, and also a spectacular bar with striped-leg stools. Señor Gutierrez himself may be present, dressed smartly in a suit to greet and assure his customers' happiness. I am pleased to have captured both in a single photo. We also like to sit outside and watch L.A. go by.
They charge for chips and salsa here, which is unusual but doesn't bother us unduly since the chips are warm, extra-crunchy and shiny, the salsa is an electric tomato red that's mild and zippy, and the chopped pico de gallo has a lurking serrano snap of the fingers. The two salsas combined make for an agreeable conclusion. If you want it, ask; if you don't, say so.
They offer a few gringo-friendly combinations--I'll get to that in a paragraph or three--but the dishes you want are the explorations into the Monterrey of Antonio's youth.
Antonio's rendition of Carnitas comes as a Sunday Special: long-marinated, fatty roast pork leg bathing like Diana in an insanely rich red sauce that has, of all things, pineapple, orange juice, cola and tomato. It is a nod to the taste buds of another time, a jazzy departure from tomate frito that has one's fork scraping the sides of the plate.
The Chicken Papachango is a little more in the realm of mole, a full-bodied sauce of white wine and herbs and tomato made thick enough to rest on the tines of a fork. The chicken is pliable, nearly needing no knife to cut.
With this is a single, dignified banana that's been grilled tender and sweet, and dances gracefully with the sauce. Pretentious sentence, I know, but it's a really good banana. Yellowed rice and beans buried under a swirl of melted white cheese keep the dish familiar to the American palate.
Back to my gringosity. I love, love, love classic Americanized hard-shell tacos with a cool red sauce on them, and they do that here with old-school panache. On the Beef Tacos the strips of steak are well-browned, the lettuce shredded almost into a web, the white cheese grated, the red sauce refreshing. Chunky guacamole adds that cool yumminess.
The Chile Verde is a bit oversalted but resplendent in its porcine force: lots of fat, falling apart, in a nigh-colorless but rich & sultry sauce. It's heaped with big lazy strips of sautéed onions and green peppers.
The cute little lemon-yellow margaritas are a fair $7 around lunchtime, and are strong enough to be worth an extra cost later in the day. We, however, have had a Sunday night dinner and been charged the same seven bucks.
Antonio's is closed on Mondays, L.A. style. Valet is five dollars.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, West Side/West Hollywood, Hollywood )
The decor, being so design-minded, sparked our fears of chainy ownership*, with its clean black booths, to-be-expected corrugated metal, and aquamarine ceiling fans that don't turn quite quickly enough. The red walls are spanned with prints of vintage crate labels with uneasy historical references. Your table will have a bucket with hot sauces (try especially the mossy-colored Louisiana Gem jalapeño sauce on everything).
Bourbon Street Shrimp obviously has an interest in bringing in the crowd that wants its sports and its happy hour specials, and attempting a dinner on a busy night will probably prompt an irritable Yelp review. On an empty Sunday, though, it's good times. The kitchen has more time to give some love to its pub-food-inflected Cajun menu.
The five-dollar Hurricanes are dressed up like pink lemonade with a switchblade hidden under the skirt. They're kicky, and you'll notice that they get empty real fast... wow! Gee whiz! I suppose the car will stay where it is for a bit, because I'm feeling like NOLA, tipsy before twelve-thirty.
The only problem with the half-dozen Blackened Shrimp appetizer is that you didn't order the full dozen. They're finger-dusting and habit-forming. The cocktail sauce is good, not gaggy, and there's a creamy pink aioli sauce which is great to keep around for french-fry dipping. Need moar of this.
Rather than a safe-as-houses jambalaya or gumbo, I always check out an étouffée to see if the kitchen knows its acute e's.
The roux is impressively thick, deep like a brown curry, and sticks to the rice. Onions, spices, peppers and tomato cavort around the shrimp like a bacchanalia. It's a big dish.
The Buffalo Fish sandwich is a fun departure. These fish used to be hunted on the plains for their hides, apparently, and this version is lightly fluffed, drippy and gorgeous despite the American cheese failing to melt on top.
Bianca: This is stoopid with two o's.
What is it about this species of food that we eat far too much? We're full. We don't need dessert. We won't order it. Let's just go and walk this off.
Homemade Bread Pudding. They took liberties with this performance; with a moat of caramel sauce, it's more like a flan than a crumbled, bready, raisiny mess one is used to, coupled with some friendly French vanilla ice cream.
Bianca: I'll be under the table. Then I want to go grab the chef, shake him, and yell, are you kidding me?!
Dave: I want to sleep on this like a number bed.
There are lots of daily drink specials, happy hour shenanigans, and colorfully chalked boards with discounts: $4 pints of Newcastle or Sapporo, 2-for-1 margaritas and well drinks, et cetera.
There's a side lot with valet, and metered street parking.
* However, there was only one other location, on the disinterested western end of Melrose, which has since been replaced by some annoyingly one-word-titled eatery.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), West Side/West Hollywood, American, Santa Monica/Culver City, Cajun/Creole )
The interior of the Santa Monica Hugo's is typically modern, calmly lit by a field of dimpled white shades. The vibe is close but efficient and friendly; however, we like the side patio, amber glass candle holders glowing on each table.
I always peruse the beverages menu for something interesting, and I settle on the Yogi Smoothie: mango, apple, toasted almonds, soy milk, cooperating in an even-handed way until the aftertaste suddenly jumps out shouting in ginger. It's a little rude, but I'd order it again.
These are fantastic. Rice Paper Lentil Rolls. Organic lentils are mixed fine with caramelized onion, surprisingly subdued celery, green pepper shaking hands with green apple, scallions, and a vegenaise. They are good by themselves, a delicate experience, but brought to a sophisticated level by a dip in the avocado/pepita dressing. The entire affair has the confident balance of a monk.
It's a salad, Dave. That's, um, great. Please tell me how this is innovative.
Glad to. This is Hugo's Mexican Salad. What's Mexican about it? Not entirely sure, although there are black beans and avocado, and a pico de gallo involved. This is not important. What is important is that along with the above ingredients they've somehow taken romaine, black olives, parmesan and nicely grilled, skin-on chicken breast, piled it into a grand hillock, and made it into one of the best salads I've tasted all year.
The caesar dressing isn't even that strong, but creamy and polite. The salad is as strongly tasty as if there were bacon and bleu cheese to boss everyone around (there isn't). The chicken is chopped into inch-wide cubes and hidden everywhere your fork penetrates. The avocado is fresh and influential, the black olives seem freshly sliced.
Another dish that refused to take a good photo, this is Very Slowly Roasted Portabello [sic] Stew, and the fact that they painstakingly point this out in the title is prominent in its presentation. Portobello mushrooms are so often rubbery and elusive, and not worth their impressive-sounding name, but this is, apparently, very slowly roasted, and therefore soft and meaty in texture, and darned good, and other things that make me run my sentences on.
Also in this is carrots, squash, zucchini, all the things that make my inner grade schooler say "yuck", plus garlic and french green lentils, which don't. It's assembled with a tomato and red wine sauce that is hard to describe, but almost sweet. Bianca likes the vegan mashed potatoes with this, which are not as whip-creamy as they can be since there is only soy milk to deal with, but combining a bit of that with a bit of stew makes every bite ridiculous.
The Grilled Mushroom Enchiladas are a grand repast, strips of sautéed mushrooms and onions wrapped in thick corn tortillas. The three amigos are then coated with a roasted tomatillo-jalapeño sauce, which is chunky and green and fairly sparkling with spice and flavor. Occasional heat darts toward your throat to stick it with a rapier.
On the left is long grain Spanish rice. Such texture! Tiny bits of corn and carrot add to a pan-roasted feel, although the rice loses its heat quickly. To the right are white beans, stirred in a red Guajillo-chili sauce, gentle and rich. The entire dish is an illustration in contrast: gritty fluff of the rice, red blanket of beans, layered nobility of the enchilada trio.
All this is gluten-free, by the way, something with which I've been concerning myself, and the parts that aren't vegan can be made vegan when requested. Each menu item considerately details whether it's vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and whether it can be made so.
We did not take a photo of the desserts, but there is something you need to try, and that is Chef Nabor's Chocolate Mousse.
In my longtime, lantern-lit search for an honest mousse, mousse usually falls to either of two waysides: it is an airy, tasteless sponge, or it is a dense clay. This is neither. The chocolate is Cordillera, with a soft-spoken, rich finish that brings smiles and hits itself out of the park. And, oh yeah: gluten-free.
Bianca: I'm having one of those "I'm young and and I'm licking my spoon" moments.
The location on Coldwater is a distant country cousin that has its own lot. Santa Monica is next to a public parking structure with a nice four-dollar flat rate for the evening.
Oh, and related to Hugo's Tacos? Yes.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), West Side/West Hollywood, Vegetarian/Vegan, Healthy/Organic, American, Burbank/North Hollywood )
Another one of those eateries I miss from the days of working on the west side, this is the restaurant that got me hooked on chicken korma. I'd go alone or with my friend Joe, counting on the reliable buffet to make the rest of my day awesome.
The West Hollywood location has a luxurious triangular orange-walled patio, its fountains and Indian music successfully drowning out the irritable Mercedes Benz and Range Rover engines on Santa Monica.
The Burbank location is larger, its pillared halls and painted alcoves hidden between a massive parking structure, a movie theater and a shameless Fuddruckers. Both kitchens have delicious smells radiating from them.
The West Hollywood buffet was where I started, and it is reliable: the Chicken Tikka Masala is a satisfying electric clay red, the dal is thin, yellow and spicy, and the Tandoori Chicken is always good despite its drying out a little on the buffet pan. Settling down for a real meal, though, is where Flavor of India shines. You will get a small disc of rice Papadam, good enough but well-matched with a pumpkin chutney, unexpectedly vibrant and spicy as a jealous goddess.
For a starter, we love the South Indian Idli, dense patties of ground rice and lentil steamed and served in Sambar, a lentil soup. The texture of the idli cake is grainy like cornbread, and comfortably warm; accompanying this is a white, gritty spackle of coconut chutney, which adds a cool balance of sweet coconut and turmeric and a new level of complexity.
Naan is always welcome, but I have a passion for their interpretation of pratha. It's wetter than it looks, unleavened bread with a buttery sheen, baked until flaky and bubbled. Although it makes your eyes close in pleasure when you drag it through something saucy, it needs to be dipped in nothing, and if there are more than three of you, order two of these.
Matter Tofu is a soupy dish of peas, green chilies, and ginger. Soft tofu cubes the color of saffron replace the typical potato or cheese, and soak up the tomato-heavy broth. The peas are small, crisp and slightly spicy. It benefits from absorbant heaps of white rice.
Back to what hooked me. My favorite rendition of Chicken Korma. Boneless chicken soft enough to separate with a fork is bathed in a blend of onion, tomato, ginger, garlic, peanuts (instead of the usual almonds) and raisins.
Together it is happily married in a tongue-enfolding, velvety rich sauce that has me smiling for many minutes, with a perfect pinkish orange color somewhere between pumpkin and vodka sauce. It is a "Marry-Eff-Kill what would be your last meal if you were trapped on a desert island" kind of dish for me.
Flavor of India does a hot masala chai worthy of contemplation, even-handed with cardamom, and their spiced ice tea, a measure of milk on the side, is refreshingly cool.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), West Side/West Hollywood, Indian, Burbank/North Hollywood )
I wish they were closer. I wish I had some chili in front of me. I wish a lot of things, not least a status of independent wealth so that I may eat chili tri-weekly.
The place is small, square, sparsely tabled, and shouts at you in electric Lego red. The floor is a sea of penny round tiles. A man behind the counter awaits you in a relaxed and friendly manner, knowing you must take a moment with the menu and the array of bowl sizes and options. They will have eight recipes to taste, out of--what is Johnny up to at this point? Seventy? More? These are no runny ground-beef-and-tomato-and-kidney-beans concoctions from our youth*, but a dizzying list of state-fair-dominating ideas.
A sampler? Why, yes. It's not large, and I could probably tackle two orders of this, but here goes.
The leftmost lovely ladleful is the Prime Rib Chili, the current all-meat flagship, ground into bulky chunks, dark like molasses with a sweet brown sugar tang. This is a chili over which I could shake chopped onions and dashes of hot sauce and do serious damage, yet is not my favorite, at least not today.
I am hooked on the middle, Exotic Chicken Verde Chili. I expect I shall have dreams of pouring this onto a tortilla, wrapping it up and eating it like a burrito. Tender ground chicken is mixed with green chilies and rich tomatillo. It has a little laid-back bite, and I sadly scrape the bottom. It's gooone, oh, I, I'd better learn how to face it.
The amber one on the right is a meaty rich... wait, it's vegan? It's chili for damn sure. It's called Hom-inous Chorizo. Fermented soy and hominy doesn't sound like it would cause the ranch hands to come a-running, but this is spoons-down the finest vegan chili I've ever had** after a long day of driving forty head of cattle. The hominy is thick like chickpeas and hearty without being overly corn-flavored.
We've also tried the Texas Gold Vegan Chili, a tan, smoky concoction with pinto beans and a soft cornmeal feel. It is a perfect hot-dog chili. Chili Addiction uses Match Foods products from St. Louis, which is all good with me.
Bianca: "I would have serious lunch troubles if I worked at Trashy Lingerie next door."
The Chorizo Madness is a chicken chili, dark, spicy, thick, a grandly meaty affair with traces of cumin and great half-spheres of chicken chorizo. It tastes incredibly rich, as if it should leave orange streaks of grease everywhere, but it won't.
It's bad form to lick the bowl in this state, isn't it?
As if you didn't already didn't owe them for the most pleasurable experience of your day, they make their own hot dogs and sausages here. The Chicken Hot Dog has a grainier, more robustly woven texture than the typical pale pink squeezed-baloney one gets. The casing is nicely snappy and the flavor is absolutely stunning. There are no store-bought dogs that can match this. None. With a sine wave of spicy homemade ketchup and homemade mustard, it ranks up there with the best hot dog I've tasted in years.
On Bianca's Vegan Hot Dog, itself snappy and delicious, they've done something with sauerkraut, making it not as bitter, not as stringy and defeated. It has solid mouth-feel and great taste.
They have other things to accompany your spoon-and-bowl mission.
Potato chips bore me. When I'm getting a sandwich somewhere and they offer some combo special that consists of choosing your own bag of chips, I go without.
These are an order of magnitude better. Homemade German Fried Potato Chips is already a good name with which to attract my attention; I'm not sure what makes them German, but they are nearly as robust as pork rinds, warm and salt-dusted with a slight give to the tooth. Homemade ketchup tones them down, zesty and not too sweet.
What else do they make there: Cornbread, Chili Mac, a Prime Rib Burger, Chili Cheese Fries, homemade hot dogs... I may be a while trucking back and forth from Silver Lake to La Cienega. And, oh: a chocolate chip chipotle ice cream? Red velvet cake ice cream? Sheesh.
You can snag one of the precious spots in the back of the building, or find metered spaces on La Cienega. Do not attempt parking on the surrounding streets, for you are on West Side, and you may park here at this time, or at this time, but at NO OTHER TIMES may you park, unless you have a permit and have made the proper sacrifices to the gods of expensive purses.
Chili Addiction is closed Mondays, since they have to sleep sometime.
* Well, my youth anyway. It was watery, slightly purple, and after a while my mom started adding corn to it, much to my chagrin. It led me to create my own personal recipe for chili, for which my friends can vouch.
** Sorry, Chili John's, I find the vegetarian barley chili to be a little alien and uncomfortable.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), West Side/West Hollywood, Vegetarian/Vegan, Healthy/Organic, American, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )